Striking 'Gold' with Public Health Entertainment-Education

Massimiliano Sani (UNICEF Mozambique); Suruchi Sood; Francesca de Maria (PCI Media Impact); and Amy Henderson Riley at UNICEF Mozambique.
Massimiliano Sani (UNICEF Mozambique), Suruchi Sood, Francesca de Maria (PCI Media Impact) and Amy Henderson Riley at Radio Mozambique.

Listen: a village in Mozambique is being confronted with the arrival of a foreign mining company, causing the traditional and modern communities to clash and creating personal drama and romance.

Sound interesting?

Although that’s the plot of a radio drama in Mozambique many listen to for entertainment, its real purpose is to inform the public about maternal and child health and mortality, a problem in the country.

It’s up to Amy Henderson Riley, a second-year doctoral student in the School of Public Health, and her advisor, Suruchi Sood, PhD, to investigate the effectiveness of entertainment-education. 

If you’ve never heard of “entertainment-education” before, chances are you probably have watched it. Remember “Sesame Street,” “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” and “Schoolhouse Rock” from elementary school? While those series were created to teach children about science, math and literacy, among other things, they were also entertaining enough to hold the attention of school-age children. Although those shows were targeting younger generations, entertainment-education can be used to teach any audience of any age about informative topics across all media.

“You could say I’m interested in that intersect between the arts — theater, radio, television, any media — and health, and how we can use those together to improve people’s lives,” said Riley, who earned a master’s in health education, a bachelor’s in theatre, and even graduated from a performing arts high school. 

The radio program, called “Ouro Negro” (or “Black Gold” in English), was implemented in Mozambique because most homes in the country do not contain a television, but the majority of the population listens to the radio every day. Plus, the Portuguese-language radio show has the potential to reach people of all literacy skills across the country, which is composed of different provinces and multiple secondary languages.

Logo for "Ouro Negro."

The project and the evaluation research is funded through UNICEF Mozambique, and the radio program is produced by PCI Media Impact, an organization that produces entertainment-education programs around the world. It follows UNICEF’s Facts for Life initiative, which directs maternal and child health objectives for the whole world like washing hands with soap and water, going for four prenatal care visits or delivering your baby at a hospital.

“These over-arching objectives that can make a really big public health impact are what’s embedded in the drama,” Riley said. “You might have a character who’s in labor and needs to get to a hospital, and all the drama around that storyline.”

During their first trip to the country in April, the Drexel team implemented a research study they designed to receive feedback from the public about “Ouro Negro,” which is set in a fictional Mozambique town.

“What I really like about this project is that it builds capacity in our local organization to take on this type of work. We’re the outside technical experts, but we’re working with a group of local community members who know their communities better than we ever could,” Riley said. “They will work with their communities to ask the survey questions. This idea of going into other countries and just giving out a handout or saying, ‘Here are the results of your study’ just doesn’t work as a sustainable model.”

Some of those research questions will be used in Riley’s dissertation, but the doctoral student says the whole experience of working on the project with Sood will help her long after she graduates from Drexel. While some students do secondary data analysis, or work with other people’s data already collected, for research projects, Riley has been involved with shaping this project from the very beginning.

“Dr. Sood has provided feedback with each step, starting when I created a first draft of the proposal, to empower me to take on ownership of the project along the way. I have been involved not just to collect data, but to help design the questionnaire and think about the research questions that I want to ask for my dissertation,” she said.

As any graduate student knows, it’s important to have a strong mentor to guide you through projects and research. Riley found hers even before she applied to Drexel; she had been following certain researchers in her field and reached out to talk with Sood, an associate professor in the School of Public Health whose background is in public health entertainment-education. Riley even mentioned her desire to work with Sood in her application essay.

Now, two years later, the two have worked on grants and research projects and have traveled with each other halfway across the world.

“Master’s students have asked me before about applying to doctoral programs, and especially applying at Drexel, and I’ve always said, ‘If you’re thinking about a career in the future, think about what you want to be doing and who’s doing it currently,’” Riley said. “Who’s your role model or dream organization? You should think ahead rather than think, ‘I just want to get in somewhere.”

By working so closely with Sood in the UNICEF Mozambique project, Riley is learning firsthand what it takes to be an effective researcher, principle investigator and, hopefully, a professor.

"Whether it's in Philadelphia, or somewhere else in the U.S., or projects that take me elsewhere, entertainment-education research is something I'm a passionate about," Riley said. "With Dr. Sood's guidance, I am learning how to handle projects with all of the research elements and know that someday I will be able to oversee a research project like this myself."